September 7, 2004
George Captain opened his mail last week and found out he was $615,810 richer.
Instead of dreaming about a new home, car or trips abroad, the 79-year-old Apache Junction resident picked up the phone and called the Tribune.
"You always hear about those 88-year-old widows on pensions who lose their whole pension on junk like this," Captain said. "I just wanted to tell someone about it so people can be warned."
According to Captain’s letter, he is one of 17 people in the world who has won an annual lottery in Madrid, Spain.
The letter explains that the El Gordo Sweepstake Lottery Company is ready to wire transfer more than $5.3 million to the winners — as soon as the company has the winners’ bank account and routing numbers.
The letter goes on to say that Captain should keep his winning a secret — just in case someone might want to target him for a theft.
Patricia Armstrong, a U.S. Postal Service inspector, has heard stories like Captain’s far too often.
There are federal laws prohibiting anyone from sending lottery materials through the mail, but that hasn’t stopped hundreds of bogus companies from doing just that, Armstrong said.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Bureau of Immigration Customs and Enforcement have destroyed 14.6 million pieces of foreign lottery mail since 1994, but some pieces are still getting into the mail stream, Armstrong said.
Many times, these companies purchase mail lists they know will provide them elderly targets — believing they are more susceptible, Armstrong said.
"When you think about (it), the people who tend to fall for (the scams) are elderly," Armstrong said. "They come from a generation where you trusted people, where you took people for their word."
In 1997, Canadian resident James Down was indicted in connection with a lottery scam, Armstrong said.
Investigators discovered he had swindled nearly 200 people all over the United States out of at least $50,000 each.
The government seized $12 million from Down and gave it back to the victims — at least those not too ashamed to report the crime, Armstrong said.
Mail suspected of being of a fraudulent nature should be mailed to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, P.O. Box 20666, Phoenix, AZ 85036. Postal inspectors in the fraud department will investigate.
People need to use common sense when told they have won something and they should never give out their personal information, such as bank account numbers, Armstrong said.
"You need to keep your guard up. When something looks too good to be true, it normally is," Armstrong said. "Thank God this man was astute enough to know something there was . . . wrong."